The year was 1986, I was five years old. My family took the long 13 hour journey from Haughton, La to Sweetwater Lake in Ninevah, IN where my grandparents had a house. This house is etched into my brain as one of my favorite childhood memories, great memories that I will never forget. The very modest house sat on top of a steep rocky hill, covered in trees, over looking the lake. It was a two story house with a porch that outstretch both the top and bottom floors. The bottom porch housed a modpodge of chairs, a picnic table and my grandparents metal glider where everyone would sit and watch the lake reflect the suns rays. In the late afternoon the sun would hit the lake at just the right angle and create sea of diamonds, you would have to squint to keep looking but you didn’t want to take your eyes off of the lake. As a child, I would run and jump off the wood dock into the diamonds and as my head would reach the surface I would watch the ripples stretch across the lake as the warm sun beat down on my face. I would then turn my head and see him, sitting in his glider smiling, watching contently as his grandchildren swam in his sea of legacy.
There is one day in particular I remember, everyone was there and we were happy. At this moment my 5 year old self was not happy as I was running up the steep hill to accomplish my most recent task, a timeout. Timeouts weren’t uncommon for me back then, I pushed the boundaries and tested my limits and I most definitely deserved every one. I marched up the hill, head hung low and out of breath from crying, my swimsuit dripping of lake water and my bare feet trying to avoid the sharp rocks. The soles of my feet were pretty tough back then from never wearing shoes in the summer, but there was an occasional sharp rock that would bite you in the toe. I ducked out of the way just as the tree swing came soaring past me, almost didn’t see it with my head hanging so low. My cousin was going pretty high, I was for sure this was the time it was going to break. We got a lot of use out of that swing, it was made up of a piece of wood my papaw sanded down and rope that tied to the first highest branch. Its not that I didn’t trust his craftsmanship, I didn’t trust the rope. I finally reached the porch, grabbed the closest towel and found a seat next to my papaw. “what you in for?” he asked? “talking back” I said low under my breath, head still lowered. My feet barely reach the ground, I grab one knee while letting my other leg dangle. My toe scratches the concrete, I gently pushed it off the ground to make the glider rock. We slowly glide back and forth, listening to the glider sqeak. I sat with him watching the summer pass by, the ice-cream maker was humming in the background and before I knew it I forgot I was in a time out and I enjoyed being there with him.
My papaw sat there, shirtless with his full sunburned belly exposed. This was not unusual for him. My hand reached for his painted white crew cut styled hair and I rubbed it beneath my fingers. I loved the feeling of his short hair running under my hands. His eyes would close and a smile would begin to form, my day was made. Just then I heard the screeching sound of the sliding screen door open and out came my mom. She sits down in the chair to the right of me. Her right hand gripped to a cold can of Mt. Dew, beads of sweat dripped down the can onto her hand. As a young kid she always had a Dew in her hand, it was her source of caffeine since she didn’t like the taste of coffee. That changed later in the years but for now she sat with her slender long bare legs crossed, foot bouncing and sipping on the Dew as if she was letting it hit every taste bud in her mouth. Noticing I was looking at her, she leaned over and asked, “did you learn your lesson?” “yes” I said, disappointed in myself. “Good. You need to respect your dad and I and not talk back to us ok?” “ok” We exchanged “I love you’s” and smiles and watched our family from the porch. I could’ve went back down to swim but I chose to stay there in that moment.
Silence. The humming of the icecream maker had stopped and we all knew what that meant. It was time to enjoy the best ice-cream in the world. Best part was having it on top of my mamaw’s homemade peach cobbler. Fresh out of the oven, the ice-cream would begin to melt and create a sweet peachy soup that you wanted to devour and savor all at the same time. The kids came running up the hill, excited for a sweet treat. We gathered together under the porch, cracking jokes half naked & wet from the lake water. Laughter would billow out of our mouths when they weren’t full of the sweetest of peaches. We sat with full belly unable to talk, just looking down at the lake. Growing up it was a rule that we needed to wait the 30 min after eating before getting back into the water. As we waited my cousins began singing a song they made up. I quickly jumped in and raced around with them at the top of the hill, we sang, “we are the kids from Sweetwater Lake” over and over, it was more of chant really. As we danced and cheered my papaw joined in, “OhhhhhhEeeeeOhhhhh!!!” he sang low and repeatedly danced around us. We giggled! He loved making us laugh and seeing us smile. When the 30 minutes were up we all dashed down the hill, trying not to fall flat on our faces, ran quickly across the sun dried dock that burned the bottom of our feet and did canon balls right into the sea of diamonds.
We ended this day like many other days we had spent at the lake, on the boat. We piled in the boat, sweatshirts on top and swimsuits underneath. Our wet hair cool to the touch from from the cool breeze. He would take us down every cove, going slow to look at each house. As a kid, I just wanted to go fast, but I cherish those moments now. Our little eyes would peer out the boat gazing at the different toys other families had by their docks, wishing we could have that slide or blowup island thingy. As the air got cooler and sun began to set, tiny little lights began to light up across the water. It was as if fireflies were dancing across the water. Then my papaw turned on our lights and I snuggled in closer to my mom to get warm. She wrapped a towel around me and my eyes began to drift off into a sleep, light enough to still hear all that was going on. Before I knew it we were back at our dock, hooking up the boat & gathering our things. I stumbled up the hill blindly as I tried to remember where the sharp rocks were located, trying to avoid them. I looked over my shoulder, back down the dark hill and across the moonlit lake. I see my papaw tieing down the last part of the boat cover and turning to walk up the hill. He stops at the edge of the dock and looks up at the house. He smiles, my heart smiles.
It isn’t the house on the lake that created my papaw’s legacy, it was his love, my family, the food, the smells (good and bad) and the laughter. My papaw didn’t live a very long life, and eventually we had to sell the lake house, but as a family we reflect on the fullness of the love he had for us and my sweet mamaw still gives out this great love today. We are all older and some wiser, but almost everyone of us would take a running start and do a canon ball off that dock if we had the chance. Our children will always hear the stories of their great papaw but they will feel the love daily that has been passed down, a legacy that will live on forever.